So you want a small pet that doesn’t require a lot of space or upkeep, but you still want to interact with it. That means no fish, spiders, scorpions, or snakes. Instead, you might be in the market for a gerbil, hamster, or guinea pig. The question, though, is which one should you get? What is the difference between gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs? Do any of them make better pets than the rest? Can you keep them together? We’re here to give you the information you need to decide if you should buy a hamster, gerbil, or guinea pig.
Gerbils come in a lot of varieties, but the Mongolian gerbil is the most common that is kept in homes. They are mouse-like in appearance and have relatively long hind legs that they use for hoarding, burrowing, and stomping. Gerbils only grow to about 4-5 inches in length (excluding their tails) and live around 3 or 4 years.
They’ll need material to shred with their teeth, since their teeth never stop growing. This material serves a dual purpose – in addition to keeping their teeth in check, it is also used for burrowing, as gerbils, in the wild, create large burrow systems with their groups. They are extremely social creatures and live with their families, which is why it’s important to keep them active and involved. It is also recommended to get at least two gerbils to let them have company with one another.
You only need a medium-sized tank for their habitat. Clean it once a week or every two weeks and do not keep it near anything too extreme (a radiator or air conditioner, for example).
Gerbils eat gerbil food, which gives them the nutrients they need, but you can also give them pears, melons, apples, oranges, cucumbers, carrots, pumpkins, and fennel.
Be sure to socialize with your gerbils and to give them plenty of opportunities for exercise. They’re very active and spend a lot of time burrowing, running, or moving around when they aren’t asleep.
Hamsters are also mouse-like like gerbils, but they are very different in many other ways. Hamsters are nocturnal and prefer to do their exercising and socializing at night. They sleep during the day, which can make them less than ideal pets for those who want to be more interactive with their pets. They have a lifespan of about two years.
Because they’re nocturnal, they should be in a room where there is not a lot of erratic lighting. The constant changes can be disturbing, so be sure to keep their cages somewhere the lighting is more or less constant.
They eat specific hamster food that contains nutrients from their natural diets. You can supplement the food with things like seeds, cereals, clean root vegetables, fruits, greens, and even larger insects like crickets and larvae. Hamsters are hoarders, so they’ll store pieces of food in their cheeks and transfer it somewhere safe to eat.
Some hamsters prefer to be alone, so they might not function well in a group. If you want to handle your hamsters, do so with care, as they get stressed very easily. Provide them with a wheel for exercise if you do not always bring them out to explore. Be sure, though, that you keep an eye on them, or put them in a special ball that allows them to move around in safety.
Their habitats should be clean and not easy to escape from. You can look into the different plastic tubes and systems that allow hamsters to roam, but these are not space-friendly.
Guinea pigs are the most physically different from gerbils and hamsters. They are much larger and have a cylindrical body shape. They do not have tails. Guinea pigs are extremely active and do not sleep much; they only get about 4 hours of sleep a night, so if you want to be interactive with them, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so. As pets, their lifespan is about 4 to 8 years.
They shouldn’t be kept alone and should be paired, as they’re very social. Their cages should be havens – they need exercise room, warm bedding, tunnels, and more. Guinea pigs are prey animals, so they tend to seek out hiding places. For this reason, it’s unwise to socialize your guinea pig with other pets, even if your other pets are friendly.
Guinea pigs eat special pellets, hay, grass, and leafy greens. They don’t eat fruits and root vegetables, so if you plan on keeping them with other rodents, you’ll have to ensure that their diets are appropriately separated.
Which Pet to Get?
If you want a very social pet that you can interact with at various times, you might be best off getting a gerbil or a guinea pig. Guinea pigs are especially social, and their size means you can be a little bit less careful and let them be around children.
Hamsters are very well suited for children who want to learn about pet ownership and responsibility. Because hamsters are nocturnal, children won’t often be playing with them, but they will have to make sure that their cages are clean, their water is fresh, and their food is sufficient. They do not live too long, so you won’t be in a situation where an unwanted pet has to be re-homed or adopted elsewhere. This is different from a guinea pig, for instance, as their longer lifespan means they’re a sizeable commitment.
Gerbils are cost-effective, but the more gerbils you have, the pricier it gets. Guinea pigs take the most money – their cages, food, bedding, and more will drive the cost up, since they are the largest of the three.
So – which one should you get? The answer depends on your preferences, budget, living space, and more. There are pros and cons to each. If you want to give your child his first pet, you might elect to purchase a hamster, but if you want a new family pet, perhaps two guinea pigs might be best. See which one resonates with you before you make a purchase.